If you’re taking a career break, even if for a short while, it is important to nurture your professional networks. Why? When you return to the workplace your strong network will be critical, not only to ease back into work life, but also in the future, to be prepared for new opportunities that may arise.
I first understood the importance of networks by attending Wellesley College, the all-women’s liberal arts college in the United States. The Wellesley alumnae network is global, connected and dedicated to supporting the next generation of women at the university. Wellesley influenced my own personal mission to help advance women in the workplace. I was inspired by an environment that fosters a culture of women supporting each other and Wellesley has been the strongest network I have ever experienced as a student and as an alumna.
You will have your own networks. Theses may be alumni, previous colleagues or people that you have connected with, perhaps while officially networking, but sometimes even socially. Do you spend time nurturing your networks? How can you nurture and sustain your networks, even while on a career break?
- Join a Professional Organisation. Stay updated on industry news and trends by joining an organisation. Choose one where you can make your presence known by contributing to a forum, or joining in online discussions. Your participation in industry events will keep you informed and connected.
- Connect People. Make introductions among the people in your network. Show your contacts that even though you are on a career break, you are still thinking about them and what you can do to help them.
- Address Network Gaps. A strong network can be extremely powerful as it can provide information that leads to career opportunities. Ensure your network includes individuals that can provide key information about industry trends and potential career opportunities. Ideally, address gaps in your existing network before your career break.
- Maintain Recruiter Contacts. Keep in contact with a least two industry recruitment professionals. Recruiters can let you know about career opportunities and provide helpful information about how to remain relevant in the industry and how to best position yourself to potential employers.
- Google Yourself. Employers and recruitment professionals are always searching online for good talent. Is your LinkedIn profile updated and an accurate and positive representation of yourself? Ensure other social media forums such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter do not have content that does not reflect positively on you (e.g. inappropriate photos, controversial tweets).
- Who is Your Sponsor? Do you have sponsors who can help to position you for a successful return? A sponsor is different from a mentor because a sponsor have a vested interest in your career and is a person of influence within the same organisation or industry that can influence your career progression by putting you forward for promotions, high profile projects and generally singing your praises. Sponsors should be a core component of every person’s long-term game plan!
- Build Your Advisory Board. Your advisory board is your inner circle of professional contacts that will give you honest professional feedback. Advice from your advisory board will help you achieve your career objectives and navigate your way back after a career break. Your advisory board will be comprised of friends in your industry, former colleagues, mentors and even people that may work in your company. Be sure to engage your advisory board during your career break in order to understand what you need to do in order to remain relevant, informed and ready to re-enter the workplace successfully.
Of course, if your career break is all about getting away from everything associated with work you may be inwardly groaning at some of my suggestions. However, many people’s career breaks are spoiled by unnecessary stress as they try to return to an alien working environment with the sickening feeling that everyone has moved on without them. Nurturing a strong network positions you for the right opportunities after your career break.
This is a guest post by Cecilia Harvey. Cecilia is a tech start-up founder, a senior women working in FinTech, and a champion of diversity in technology. She is currently working on This Tech World, where she investigates how technology can help all of us lead more productive and fulfilled lives, as well as looking into how technology can empower small and medium sized businesses and help them compete. She also heads up Tech Women Today, a platform to showcase women in technology, and a resource for women who want to be leaders and increase their influence in the workplace.